Throughout the pandemic, Imperial County has led California in COVID vaccination rates – 91.7% of  its residents have had two doses of the vaccine, giving Imperial the highest vaccination rate among Californian counties.

Experts at a July 15 EMS briefing attributed the high vaccination rates to the efforts of Imperial County’s community-based organizations (CBOs) and tight knit communities.

The Influence of CBOs

Rosyo Ramirez, Deputy Division Director of the Imperial County Public Health Department, said, “Everyone in our community was somehow impacted, whether it was them, individually, or someone they knew was impacted. People see these devastating impacts.”

Ramirez highlighted the role of CBOs in coordinating the vaccination initiative. “How we’ve managed to get through every situation has been in collaboration and partnership with our local medical providers, with our local community-based organizations, with federal and state partners and our regional partners as well.”

CBOs such as Together to Immunity, Safe Schools, Comite Civico del Valle, and Ventanilla de Salud emphasized vaccine efficacy, and encouraged the community to get their shots.

Like Imperial County, India’s dense population on the other side of the planet attributes its vaccination rate of 90% to its tight-knit communities.

Booster Rates Are Falling

However, as large percentages of the population get vaccinated and people see fewer effects of the pandemic, experts predict a significant drop in demand for booster shoots.

India’s 4% booster rate is nearly 24% lower than the worldwide rate. The same is true of Imperial County where the booster rate is staggeringly low. Despite its high vaccination rate, Imperial ranks 49th out of the 58 counties in the state for boosters.

At the briefing, experts discussed strategies to counter this slowdown in booster shots, while exploring how other counties could be encouraged to replicate Imperial’s high vaccination rates.

The Past

When the pandemic began, Imperial County was hit hard by COVID. By July 2020, Imperial had 2,835 cases per 100,000 people compared to the statewide average of 491 cases per 100,000 people, with only two hospitals handling many of these cases. However, Imperial focused on increasing its vaccination rates and surpassed Marin County, the second most vaccinated county, by over 3%. It also successfully lowered its COVID death rate.

The Present

Today as the highly infectious Omicron spreads across the country, Imperial will need new strategies to protect its residents from the virus, and to further increase its high vaccination and lagging booster rates. Officials said they will continue to work with CBOs to persuade more of its population to get vaccinated. Though not required, masking will be encouraged, and the county’s hospitals all have upgraded capacity. 

The Future

As Imperial county moves forward with its vaccination strategy, one of the major roadblocks it faces is the widespread presence of misinformation. According to UCLA Medicine and Epidemiology Professor Timothy Brewer, “Individuals who are not vaccinated at this point, it’s usually not because of lack of information. There’s a lot of information out there, and it’s just a question of who they are trusting for their information.” 

Strategies To Combat Covid As It Evolves

Brewer emphasized the importance of preventing misinformation. He urged that the best way to get people vaccinated was to give them correct information through religious and community-based organizations, or other sources they trust.

Identify who they trust…and try to use that trust to get the appropriate information out to them.”

Luis Olmedo, Executive Director of Comite Civico Del Valle, said that community-based organizations like his played a key role in this in getting people vaccinated.

Initially, there was no government aid to provide frontline workers with personal protective equipment said Olmedo. “We almost spent a whole year before it was actually official,” that CBOs were needed to propel the vaccination initiative.

Olmedo feels that aid should not have taken this long to arrive. “We already knew that the community organizations were there. We’ve always been there…we’re always addressing and responding to the hard-to-reach populations.”

He called for more timely government aid to enable CBOs  effectively battle future waves of COVID in communities. 

Olmedo urged Imperial County and other communities to stay vigilant. “We’ve got to continue to go out there, we’ve got to continue to provide access and registration for the vaccine.”

Whether a Californian county like Imperial or a large country like India, it’s clear that CBOs in tight-knit communities will be a key factor in encouraging vaccinations, overcoming COVID, and in keeping communities safe. 

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

Avyay Sriperumbudur is a senior at Gunn High School. He is passionate about political science, the environment, and the law. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball and reading.